The latest archaeogenetic results related to the research of Hungarian prehistory of the Institute of Archaeogenomics (Research Centre for the Humanities, Eötvös Loránd Research Network) has been recently published in the scientific journal Human Molecular Genetics of the Oxford University Press.

The project focusing on the population history of early Hungarians has been within the framework of a Hungarian-Russian-Ukrainian scientific cooperation, with the participation of archaeologists, anthropologists and geneticists from 18 institutions and universities.

In the past decade, the Pázmány Péter Catholic University and the Early Hungarians Research Team have effectively cooperated in the excavation and interpretation of cemeteries related to the early Hungarians, within the framework of archaeological expeditions. The collaborations have provided the opportunity for the Hungarian side to take DNA samples from the bone material of human remains from the excavated cemeteries and to carry out archaeogenetic analyses. From the former Hungarian settlement areas in the Volga and Ural regions – determined on a linguistic-historical basis – new archaeological relations have repeatedly appeared. To verify these connections from a biological point of view, the Institute of Archaeogenomics has also joined the study.

The aim of the researchers was to contribute with new genetic data to the research focus of the origins of the Hungarians. In order to achieve this, investigations of the burials along the presumed migration route that could be linked to Hungarians were carried out – based on archaeological, historical and geographical aspects. The characterization of the Hungarian population that remained in the Volga region in the 9th century, as well as the groups living in the geographical proximity of the Hungarians' settlements were also covered by the research. Compared with the genetic data of the Carpathian basin at the time of the Hungarian conquest, it was in question, how much of the genetic characteristics described in the Volga-Ural region had been preserved by the conquering population.

The work published in 2020 by Veronika Csáky, Dániel Gerber and their co-authors in the Scientific Reports (journal of the Nature publishing group) should be mentioned as a direct precursor to this study, which confirmed for the first time the important role of the early mediaeval Ural region in the Hungarian ethnogenesis from a genetic point of view. The recently published study by Bea Szeifert and her co-authors expands that work from two years ago and reports the archaeogenetical examination of 112 individuals from 18 early mediaeval cemeteries from modern–day Russia, located between the Ob and Volga rivers.

terkepThe supposed migration route of the early Hungarians (arrows) and the regions that could be linked to them (uppercase letters). The sites were grouped according to archaeological and chronological aspects; the formed groups are marked with white outlines. The investigated sites and the groups formed from them: Bolshie Tigani [1]; Novinki group: Novinki [2], Mulovka [3], Brusyany [4], Lebyazhinka [5], Malaya Ryazan [6], Shilovka [7]; Chiyalik group: Gulyukovo [8], Novo Hozyatovo [9], Gornovo [10]; Tankeevka [11]; Bustanaevo [12]; Proto-Ob-Ugric group: Vikulovo [13], Barshov Gorodok [14], Ivanov Mis [15], Panovo [16], Ust-Tara [17]; Uyelgi + Karanayevo group: Karanayevo [18], Uyelgi [19]; Cis-Ural group: Bayanovo [20], Brody [21], Bartim [22], Sukhoy Log [23] (source of 19–23: Csáky et al. 2020). 

In the current study, which provides a broader perspective, the sites can be grouped based on chronological and archaeological aspects. Some of them belong to the period immediately after the Hungarians' ancestors crossed the Ural Mountains (Kushnarenkovo ​​culture), other cemeteries could be used jointly by Hungarians and other ethnic groups of the Volga-Ural region (early Volga Bulgarians, Permian peoples) in the 9th-11th centuries. Still others may have been the burials of Hungarians "left in the east", who were found by Friar Julian in the first half of the 13th century (Chiyalik culture, 11th-14th centuries). Two additional, now examined site groups, are related to Hungarian ethnogenesis in a broader sense: in the Volga bend at Samara, the research of the Novinki type, 8-9th century cemeteries was justified by the geographical and chronological proximity to the Hungarians, as well as their connections with the Khazar Khaganate, while the analysis of the finds from the early Obi-Ugric cemeteries in Western Siberia was justified by their approximately 1,500-2,000 years long neighbourhood to the Hungarians’ predecessors after the linguistic separation of the two.

"During the analysis of mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosomal lineages, we found many individual level relationships between and within the sites/site groups," emphasised Bea Szeifert (Institute of Archaeogenomics, RCH ELRN), the first author of the study.karanajevoBelt mounds from the Karanayevo cemetery belonging to the late Kushnarenkovo culture (photo: Sz. G. Botalov)

The examination of the cemeteries of the Kushnarenkovo ​​culture clearly shows a positive example of the question that often arises: were the archaeological cultures formed by biologically related groups? A close relationship was indicated by both maternal and paternal lines between the population of the Uyelgi and Karanayevo cemeteries on both sides of the Ural. A significant part of the population of the two mediaeval cemeteries can be traced back to South Uralian Iron Age roots, but the genetic composition of this earlier, local population has changed by several impacts over time.

The same biological and genetic relationships mentioned above can also help identifying Julian’s Hungarians who were buried without findings. Between the 9-10th century cemeteries of Bolshie Tigani, which shows many parallel finds with the conquerors, and the cemeteries attributed to Julian's Eastern Hungarians, there are especially many close maternal connections pointing to at least partial continuity between the two communities. Attila Türk (Institute of Archaeology, Pázmány Péter Catholic University; Early Hungarians Research Team, Research Centre for the Humanities, Eötvös Loránd Research Network), the leading archaeologist of the study highlighted:

"This result clearly connects the cemeteries of the Chiyalik culture with the Hungarians – confirming the archaeological and historical assumptions. The former  is poor in archaeological finds, frequently due to the Islamization of the region. "

urali tipusu temetkezesek"Ural" type burials from Bolshie Tigani cemetery

Most of the maternal and paternal lines detected in the Volga-Ural groups can also be found in the  Carpathian Basin in the conquest period. As a result of recent investigations, some lineages reveal direct connections between the populations of these two regions, indicating that they had a common origin in the Volga-Ural region, or in the proximity.

The research group reanalysed the genetic data known from the conquest-era cemeteries of the Carpathian Basin according to the system developed by archaeologist László Kovács (Institute of Archaeology, Research Centre for the Humanities, Eötvös Loránd Research Network), which was based on the number of graves and the period of usage of the cemeteries. The 10th-century group, which included the population of the so-called nomadic campsite cemeteries with a small number of graves, showed the greatest similarity with the studied populations of the Volga-Ural region. The mixture with the local populations in the Carpathian Basin becomes more and more remarkable in the so-called village cemeteries, used between the 10th–12th centuries as time progressed. However, some maternal and paternal lineage characteristics of the Volga-Ural region persisted even in these groups, often identified as common people. The assumption that not only men but entire families arrived in the Carpathian basin at the end of the 9th century was indicated by the numerous maternal connections described between the population of the two areas.

Are the eastern analogies of the archaeological findings from the Carpathian basin only the result of trade relations, or the interaction of related populations? The authors of the study reported that – with the exception of the early Ob-Ugrians – a number of clear genetic links could be demonstrated between the early mediaeval groups and their representatives linked to the Hungarians, examined on the basis of the latest prehistoric archaeological model, which clearly prove that Hungarian ethnogenesis is worthwhile to be examined along these archaeological analogies.

The "eastern elements”, previously described in the population of the conquest period Carpathian Basin were successfully identified in the Volga-Ural region, which also supports the historical, linguistic and archaeological assumption that some of the invaders came directly or indirectly from this region from an archaeogenetic point of view.

Anna Szécsényi-Nagy (director of the Institute of Archaeogenomics, RCH ELRN) added: "In the future, the research will be continued at the whole genomic level, and also expanded in the direction of the former “Etelköz” (located in present-day Ukraine). Here, in addition to the characterization of the Subbotsi-type sites linked to the Hungarians, we will also place great emphasis on the comparative genetic analysis of the former neighbours, especially the Slavic-speaking peoples."


For further information, contact the study's corresponding authors:

Bea Szeifert 

  • Institute of Archaeogenomics, Research Centre for the Humanities, Eötvös Loránd Research Network; ELTE Doctoral School of Biology

Anna Szécsényi-Nagy

  • Institute of Archaeogenomics, Research Centre for the Humanities, Eötvös Loránd Research Network

Attila Türk

  • Institute of Archaeology, Pázmány Péter Catholic University; Early Hungarians Research Team, Research Centre for the Humanities, Eötvös Loránd Research Network